New (Old) Stuff

I’ve recently been going over some of the older transcriptions in the archive to see if there’s anything that my ears missed when I first started writing things out in 2007. I’d hoped that in the last 8 years my transcription skills might have improved slightly, and I was strangely relieved to find plenty of mistakes to rectify…

1. ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’ – Otis Redding

On closer listening I realised that not all of Duck Dunn’s approach note lines during the verses are the same, and he likes to play around with the note lengths at the end of phrases.

I made a play along video for this but Warner Music Group won’t allow it to be viewed on YouTube due to copyright restictions. Oh well.

2. ‘I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)’ – Michael McDonald

Sharp-eared subscriber Peter Weil got in touch to let me know that I’d missed some of the finer details of the (late) great Louis Johnson’s line. I found this one particularly tricky to accurately catch all of the subtle variations, so many thanks to Peter for pointing out the missing pieces!

YouTube Play Along:

3. ‘Runaway’ – Jamiroquai

Having recently covered this in ‘Groove Of The Week’ I thought it could do with a tidy-up. The main improvement has been notating more of Paul Turner’s fills during the second chorus.

‘Behind The Scenes’ In The Studio, Circa 2012

While sorting through my ancient transcriptions I found some footage shot by a producer from a studio session I did for Jamie Abbott back in 2012. The video shows us tracking an acoustic version of Jamie’s song ‘Light Love’ – my trusty P-bass was strung with nylon tapewounds at this point. All the harmonic stuff comes from too much time listening to Jaco on Joni Mitchell’s ‘Coyote’, apologies for the bass faces.

Some new (new) transcriptions are on the way, honest.

The Luther Vandross groove you SHOULD have been playing all these years: GOTW #24

You know that Luther Vandross song that has the great bassline by Marcus Miller on it?

No, not that one. This one:

‘Never Too Much’ is one of the most famous examples of bass deity Marcus Miller’s extensive session work, with heavily syncopated slap lines that jump out of the mix and demand our attention. But there’s another less famous Miller/Vandross collaboration that once again sees Marcus’ thumb in full flight, providing tight staccato slap grooves peppered with high register fills.

The verse groove of ‘She’s A Super Lady’ alternates between a sparse ascending figure (a contraction of the main chorus groove) and more active fills outlining E minor:

The flurry of notes half way through the verse is one of those fills that sounds harder than it actually is – pay close attention to the thumb/pop markings in the transcription and let your left hand do the bulk of the work. The real key to making fills like this work is having a strong thumb sound on the D string,which is a key component of Marcus’ sound and often overlooked.

A full transcription of ‘She’s A Super Lady’ can be downloaded HERE

Updated ‘Graceland’ Transcription + Play Along

Bakithi Kumalo’s propulsive part on Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ is one of the most popular transcriptions in the archive. I did the original transcription some years ago, and as I was recording the play along video I noticed a few areas that could be improved upon to help convey some of the nuances that are vitally important to making the groove sit correctly.

The improved transcription can be found here:


One of the main changes concerns the ghost notes that feature through out the verse sections – I feel that they work best using the open E string throughout, using horizontal position shifting when the harmony changes. The staccato markings (indicated by a dot above the note head) are achieved by left hand muting – again, this is a small detail that helps to give Bakithi’s line its signature ‘bounce’. The play along video shows how I’m using my fretting hand to regulate the note lengths throughout the track:

And yes, I’m aware that I really should have played a fretless on this. Regular readers might have already seen this post on my fretless history and my reasons for not owning one…

Groove Of The Week #21: Maxwell – ‘Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)’

This edition of Groove Of The Week focuses on the power of simplicity. The bassline that anchors Maxwell’s smooth soul ballad ‘Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)’ contains only 5 different pitches and is largely played on a single string, yet it still provides the song with a powerful hook.

Jonathan Maron has already been featured in the Groove Of The Week series, but his smooth groove on ‘Ascension’ stands in stark contrast to his busy 16th note line that propels Groove Collective’s ‘Everything Is Changing’:

GOTW Ascension Don t Ever Wonder copy

Playing the line on a single string rather than staying in one position keeps things sounding even, as we don’t encounter the tonal change that occurs when changing between strings. As always, pay close attention to the grace notes and staccato markings in the transcription as these will help to keep the line smooth and swinging.

Groove Of The Week #20: McFadden & Whitehead – ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’

Inspiration often strikes in the strangest of places. Earlier this year I had a rare Saturday night off from gigging and was at a friend’s wedding reception when I heard ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’ for the first time in years. Jimmy Williams’ slick groove has to be one of the smoothest basslines in the history of disco:

GOTW Ain t No Stoppin Us Now copy

Groove Of The Week #19: Tool, pedal points and plectrum possibilities

Metal is one genre of music that most people don’t associate with the word ‘groove’, but this series of posts is designed to explore the low end from a variety of sources and expose readers to bassists, basslines and techniques that they might not have encountered before.

‘Forty Six & 2’ is anchored by Justin Chancellor’s hypnotic bassline, which is played with a plectrum and features a pedal point provided by the open D string combined with hammer-ons and pull-offs:

If you’re not used to playing with a pick (or simply reluctant to use one) then this a good introduction to plectrum technique.

The key to executing this line smoothly is strict alternation of down and upstrokes with the pick (every note on the D string is a downstroke, every picked note on the G string is an upstroke).

GOTW Forty Six 2 copy

It’s worth noting that plectrums are not solely reserved for metal, punk or rock playing – it’s entirely possible to play funk with a pick (as we’ve seen in a previous post featuring Anthony Jackson).

I’m still amazed by many bassists’ resistance to using a pick and the prevalence of ‘pick vs fingers’ discussions on bass forums – the choice of fingers or plectrum should be determined by the tone that you want from your bass rather than what your technique obligates you to do. Neither is superior, it purely depends on which is more appropriate for the music that you’re playing.

If you’re in the anti-plectrum camp then I strongly urge you to spend a week listening to Bobby Vega play and then see if your opinion hasn’t changed:

Groove Of The Week #18: Bruno Mars, backwards octaves and the ‘half-slap’ groove

On first listening, the main groove on ‘Treasure’ sounds as if it’s slapped throughout, but closer inspection reveals that it falls into the less common category of what I’d term ‘half-slap’, where the lower notes are played fingerstyle and any octaves are popped:

Bruno Mars - Treasure copy

The constant transition between fingerstyle and slap techniques can feel awkward at first, as the angle of the wrist needs to change in order to cleanly execute either technique. As with anything new, start slowly and let the technique come to you through practice rather than trying to force the tempo up before you’re ready.

Another great example of ‘half-slap’ is the main groove from Jocelyn Brown’s ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’, which requires similar alternation between fingerstyle and slap playing:

Thinking Outside The Box

It’s hard to see on the video, but the sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I play the first octave ‘backwards’, starting on the little finger and reaching across all 4 strings to reach the high Ab with the index finger. While this isn’t an everyday occurrence, certain lines sit better with this approach, as it reduces the amount of left hand position shifting and makes the part easier to execute at tempo (for me, at least).

All bass players are guilty of falling into pattern-based thinking from time to time, relying on familiar shapes rather than concentrating on the actual notes being played. When we’re required to play an octave, our muscle memory defaults to the standard ‘box’ pattern that works 90% of the time – in this instance it’s worth thinking ‘outside the box’ in order to achieve the best result for the music, not just the bass player.